The Great Vitamin Mystery
Compiling a various artists collection isn't easy, especially for a very young label with a wide array of styles in mind and noble intentions in their heart. Over three years after the passing of Jonathan Hicks, this collection has surfaced, featuring over two hours of exclusive audio contributions from much admired acts like Tarantel, The Album Leaf, Jessica Bailiff, and Her Space Holiday, along with a host of relative unknowns like Moonpony, The Potomac Accord, and Unwed Sailor. Jonathan Hicks was a young man from Indiana who lost his battle to a rare cancer at the age of 23. Chris Bennett, an amateur photographer/filmmaker made a short film entirely in Super 8mm featuring Jonathan, still alive and recently diagnosed, and completed it with the intentions of leaving his family an "etheral portrait of Jonathan." The film was sent to various musicians to make soundtracks for the short film, and the submissions are amazing. While most of the musicians probably didn't know Jonathan, they have provided honorable sounds to go along with the film, from Tommy Guerrero's analogue beats to the melancholy acoustic guitar and banjo work from Your Friend; pulsing electronic synths of Mikael Jorgensen to echoed piano, violin, and drums from Early Day Miners. Tunes like the Album Leaf's "Jonathan's Song" are simple yet rich with a beautiful sadness, while the compilation's closer, "Figure Eight," from Jessica Bailiff is possibly one of the most chilling, yet wacked out pieces I've ever heard bleed from her guitar. Additionally, the silent film is included to play along with a favorite submission or to simply watch in silence. Most of the people who end up with this collection will never know Jonathan Hicks, but he must have been special enough for somebody to be as dedicated to see this project through to completion. Proceeds from the sale of the compilation will be donated in Jonathan Hicks' honor to the Children's Inn in Behtesda, Maryland, a place where Jonathan received treatments for over two years. - Jon Whitney
MATMOS, "RAT RELOCATION PROGRAM"
Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt's two albums last year both represented departures from their trademark audio strategies. The Civil War saw the duo incorporating medieval and American folk elements into a series of pastoral compositions while The Soft Pink Truth's Do You Party? was Drew Daniel's unique take on leftfield digital disco and bottom-heavy electro. Rat Relocation Program is a return of sorts to the old conceptual bag of tricks; a brief experimental EP that utilizes the microtonal sampling techniques familiar from Matmos' antebellum days. Slightly less academic than the "amplified neural activity of a crayfish" stuff the duo is known for, the sounds on this release were drawn from recordings of a rat humanely captured in the couple's San Francisco apartment. This description immediately recalls "For Felix (And All the Rats)," a track off of 2001's A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure that was constructed from the bowed and plucked ribcage of their deceased pet rat. Because this is volume six in the Locust's Met Life series of "field recordings and ingenious sound responses," it consists of two tracks: the unaltered recording of the rat protesting its incarceration, and Matmos' digitally processed musical response. I doubt anyone would want to listen to the fourteen minutes of "Rat" more than once, consisting as it does entirely of piercing rodent shrieks and the sound of tiny claws trying to breach the metal bars of its cage, with long silences in between. "Rat Relocation" is a different animal entirely, a longform audio narrative that preserves the poor creature's squawking, but answers each shrill cry with a measured electronic response ranging from sudden attacks of pummeling drum n' bass, to psychedelic funk excursions, to minutely detailed DSP fractures that sprinkle the stereo channels with fractal debris. The track feels strangely narrative amid its abstractions, not dissimilar to some of Nurse With Wound's more mercurial sidelong tracks. A clear empathy is created between the musicians and their captured pest, as Matmos attempt to vividly illustrate the hardwired fight-or-flight instincts of a rat trying to escape its captors, whether they be pacifist animal-loving bohemians or white-coated lab technicians. It's an epic on a microcosmic scale. - Jonathan Dean
Bonnie "Prince" Billy, "Sings Greatest Palace Music"
Any attempt at summarizing Will Oldham's pre-millennial output under the Palace name will necessarily be a difficult, even defeating task. Like that of any great songwriter, Oldham's body of work visits a multitude of distinct voices, illustrated by his undeniable lyrical density and legendary dissatisfaction with any kind of stable moniker. If one constant could be established, at least among his Palace recordings, it might be the ingredient of self-doubt: that healthy frailty that seems to provide the characteristic, tortured quiver in every vocal; the half-sardonic/half-serious tension that fills every other line; and the regular shifts in both the dominant persona and stylistic frame of each record. The artist's stubbornness during interviews has guaranteed that his songs remain the only windows into his life, and they do create an incredibly human picture: passionate, diverse, and perpetually uneasy: always second-guessing, experimenting with, and even contradicting his methods. Anyone who's seen Oldham live can attest to his tendency to perform even the most sacred of fan favorites in ways completely alien to their recorded versions, and this kind of behaviorwhile aggravating for a sorry fewis largely what keeps him such a vibrant figure, refusing to let his music perch idly in the ivory tower of indie, alt country, folk noir, or whatever set of rules comes closest to housing his talent as of late. Over the decade since the first Palace record (still-)interested parties should be used to having their expectations thwarted. In true country style, Oldham's Bonnie Billy has taken some Palace favorites (nominated by fans, supplemented by the artist) and rerecorded them in Nashville with the city's finest session men and women. It's honestly hard to think of Oldham agreeing to this kind of collection without turning it to parody. The session turns fifteen of his most fragile anthems and cryptic ballads to full-blown golden country greats, full of enough pedal steel, fiddle and haggard crooning to make the most die-hard fan wince more than once. The result is equal parts celebration and satire, for as much as Oldham is having fun playing into the C & W stereotype (at the expense of those emotionally invested in the originals, of course), he is obviously trying hard to make each new version a thoughtful reworking. The artist's admitted desire to rerecord several tracks no matter what the voted result ("Viva Ultra" and "No More Workhorse Blues" among them) points to a genuine interest in revisiting older material as an older man, with both wise distance and obvious affection. Oldham knows that this new batch will never replace the old, and he's aiming this collection at those well enough acquainted with Palace history to ease up attachments and take a long, joyful look back through the eyes of a different man. Some moments are sublime, more are shockingly different, and many are downright painful, but Greatest Palace Music is absolutely essential for any previous fan of Oldham, if only for a further chiseling of one of the roundest characters in contemporary music. New Palace listeners, however, should be warned; start here at your own risk. Greatest's appeal, or lack thereof, relies on prior exposure to the originals, and if you somehow come to like this without hearing its origins then we surely have some sort of postmodern conundrum on our hands?probably what Oldham wanted all along. - Andrew Culler
Robert Lippok, "Falling into kom?t"
Robert Lippok (To Rococo Rot) has taken Kom?t's (Julia Kliemann and Chris Flor) recording "Falling into Place" apart to remodel its contents. He's kept the essential vocals, guitar lines and other critical signatures from the original and just enhanced their lightness of being. The purely instrumental "Parade" is a great example as it just glides along. "It's A Good Thing" reverses Flor's guitarloop and highlights the sinewaves in Kliemann's keyboard while adding undercurrents of freshly stripped white noise. The crawling to life simulated toy keys on "Readymades" is a lullaby for shoegazers everywhere. Tentative percussion and playful pitches brighten its melodic sphere. Suddenly the tandem vocal serves a higher confidence on the linguistically ironic "Rearrange" where they sing "Let's melt words together, take these words for real." Vibe-a-riffic "Schemes Like These" is the would-be hit here - groovy underbeat currents and false-start tapping percussion make for something both movement conscious, in an imposing milieu. Closing with "Three Hours" Lippok's homage to his peers seems to end up somewhere between Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood and something more poignant from Pearl Jam, through the eyes of sea monkeys. Kliemann's wet vocal oozes over a repetitive chord and the formalities of a dissonant, hollow piano. - TJ Norris
lali puna, "faking the books"
There is no doubt that the pressure has built up for a strong follow-up to the astounding 2001 album Scary World Theory: it was gloriously received by critical acclaim worldwide, followed by trans-continental tours, and a decent amount of well-publicized respect by some of the biggest names in modern rock and pop music. While the band didn't crack under pressure, they have clearly taken a step in a direction that might dissappoint fans of their other albums. The most noticable difference is that Faking the Books is much more of a "rock" record than anything the group has done previously. After the mellow and meandering opening title track, "Call 1-800-fear," comes on strong, establishing a more prominent guitar presence than ever. It continues through the album where the drums aren't as programmed as they were in the past, and the feel is much more extroverted and rawkus than the rather timid and reserved Scary World Theory. Electrnoic hums and twitters sound more like afterthoughts and additional coloration as the album sounds more geared around their live showperhaps both influenced and built for the stage. "Left Handed" is thankfully included for those who didn't want to shell out for the high priced three-track import, but there isn't much else here that is memorable. The issues I have with this album aren't with the production, the playing, or the melodies, it's with the songwriting this time around I think. Uninteresting lyrics are repeated ad nauseam in nearly every song, almost making the music seem somewhat wasted. While I love the group and love their sound, I do admit however that coming away from this record, I have less songs stuck in my head. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate this album by a long shot, but I can't see myself adoring it as much as I have for them in the past. It's kind of like salsa. Sure, there are people who haven't had salsa, and try it and love it the first few times. Soon enough, everybody gets it with their meals and after a while the only salsa that gets noticed and remembered is the salsa with a certain kick. It far exceeds any expectations, with a taste that is often remembered and desired. I think I'll spend more time with that kind of salsa. - Jon Whitney
OOIOO, "KILA KILA KILA"
The third full-length album from Yoshimi P-We's female rock quartet, Kila Kila Kila refuses to immediately deliver the goods as generously or bountifully as their previous two albums of densely layered psychedelia. Green and Gold and Feather Float were jam-packed with kaleidoscopic melodies and shimmering guitars, creating thick syrupy whirlpools of hypnotic grooves with saccharine group harmonies and bright, sparkling production. Kila Kila Kila is a more difficult proposition, with Yoshimi P-We veering away from her pop tendencies, preferring instead to emphasize the more abstract and improvisatory elements of her music. "Ene Soda" is a sparse call-and-response between Yoshimi's sporadic electric guitar wallops and an array of twinkling bells and effervescent percussion. "Suzuki Ring Neng" takes a cue from Asa Chang and Junray, slowly developing out of clipped phonetic utterances and looped percussive retorts, finally exploding into a luminous Kraut-prog jam, complete with a mesmerizing bassline and chirping synthesizers. OOIOO takes a crack at Tortoise-style post-rock instrumentalism with the energetic jazz of "On Mani," driven by a pount-counterpoint conversation between trumpets and two lively drummers. "Northern Lights" is another extended jazz-rock improvisation, with some oddly mutated vocals and Yamatsuka Eye-trademarked birdcalls forming competing textures. "Aster" is something again entirely again, a 15-minute disparate avant-rock exploration featuring guitar melodies that seem to quote freely from traditional Japanese folk styles, echoed in delicious vocal harmonies that float cloudlike over the driving rhythms. It's hard to say exactly why I don't have the same affection for Kila Kila Kila as I have had for OOIOO's previous albums. It's certainly marvelously produced, with each instrument crisply resonating, each part intertwining into a complex whole. Compared to their past work, however, it feels a little thin and underdeveloped, perhaps a result of Yoshimi's new emphasis on improvisation and away from studio multitracking. That said, it's still a fine album by a talented group that are probably incapable of making anything other than buoyant and adventurous music. - Jonathan Dean
A league of distinguished noisemen emerge with the subtle frayed filaments of the two extended piece "Brackwater." The title track emits a genuinely blazing low-fi double-take on what could either be a record goin' round and round doused in kerosene, or perhaps the splitting of the atom. This sounds like a grand procedure actually, almost like a squared off experiment between a quartet that's been choreographed to sync perfectly. Otomo Yoshihide's turntables blend incredibly well with Tomas Korber's synthesized electronic play as ErikM and Toshimaru Nakamura mix and otherwise dial-in to add micro-effects and organic feedback. "Brackwater" is like an interactive carpet of static being fine tuned, there's something really palpably textural about their combination playing, with its heart monitor central to the post-climax of the track, the beat goes on. Twisting into cold hallway like spaces, the entire shift of drama flows into the doubt of nighttime. Korber's guitar is only hinted at, but makes for unpresumptuous but perceptible effect. The addendum "And A Slice of Bread" buzzes propitiously. The build is live, the staging is simple, the panorama widens. They have filtered much of the general angst normally heard in works that rely on the effects of their own technical difficulties (feedback, static, whitenoise, other "on-air" sounds). The track renders the artifice of an arboretum, perhaps created in a communications lab, something futuristic, scientific, lost in a time warp. This one calls for volume to attain its excessive subtleties. - TJ Norris
Beef Terminal, "The Isolationist"
Composed mostly of wandering guitar echoes and fuzzed-out machine noise or rhythms, the heart of these songs lay in their zen-like construction. The eleven songs that make up this record drift by in a fog that sends all images into slow-motion: light becomes amazingly intense and the simplest of movements stand as monuments to the beauty of the body. M.D. Matheson's formula is simple and effective: a lone guitar (sometimes two, one heavily processed) bounces above a wash of percussive loops or noise washes full of coal factories and abandoned warehouses. The melodies are always haunting and carry with them a degree of melancholy, but The Isolationist is never bogged down by drab arrangements or depressingly slow developments. "Killing the Corners" moves along at a walking pace with a steady and easy rhythm of skipping snares, but the mood is that of a cold rainstorm somewhere on the shore of an industrial and rusting city. The formula of guitar-solo plus odd tapes loops and/or rhythms rarely changes, however. The simplicity that drew me half way through the album leaves me a lot bored at times. "Passing Secrets Through the Window" attempts to shift the emphasis from guitars to soft fuzz and eerie radio samples and does so quite well, but it represents only one change of pace; Matheson needs to provide more. In fact, right after the lazy stroll of "Passing Secrets..." Matheson decides he's a little bored and provides the most upbeat (if you can call it that) song on the album. This is a relatively small complaint, though. The melodies are gorgeous, the arrangements come together beautifully (though they are all similar), and the music affects a sense of weightlessness and breathing room that serves as an excellent therapeutic. A change of pace and perhaps a more varied selection of tracks would be great, but I find it hard to complain over these melodies. - Lucas Schleicher
"I Remember Syria"
Sublime Frequencies' first double CD continues with the amateur travelogue aesthetic that's infused nearly all the label's releases to date, and to my ears it is the most successful, in its transporting power and focused depiction of the rich sound world available in a country whose cultural legacy has long been consciously ignored by Western media. Essentially an audio scrapbook assembled by Mark Gergis from field recordings made during two trips to Syria near the turn of the century, I Remember perfectly accommodates Gergis' cut-up skills, so essential to his previous work in Porest and Monopause. His creation distances itself from Alan Bishop's radio collages by assuming a considerably more relaxed flow, one that allows for the development of some nice thematic undercurrents. Though I Remember contains plenty of radio captures, there is little that compares to Bishop's schizophrenic dial-spinning, and the amount of shortwave noisemaking is surprisingly small given Gergis' background. A good portion of the two discs comes from talk radio segments of political or socially progressive orientation. The first disc begins framed within the introduction to a program called "Syria Today;" later on, reports of the Israeli/Palestinian crisis emerge alongside light-hearted Youth Radio productions and one enlightening broadcast entitled "Arab Women in Focus." Some of the most interesting moments are the fragments of conversations Gergis has with a variety of citizens, including a 35-year old homosexual in Aleppo whose wife remains oblivious to his lifestyle, several people eager to share criticisms of America, and a gentleman who sounds like a head official of Kazib, a newly-discovered underground city. There are recordings from mosque interiors, weddings, nightclubs, street musicians, outdoor markets, even the competing sounds of distorted cassette kiosks. One woman performs a "maternal bedouin" song about Saddam Hussein, presumably at Gergis' request as her hesitant, giggling delivery shows signs of embarrassment or indulgence. The collage is spliced with the expert blends, fades, and juxtapositions that have made Porest's work so well-liked, and it covers an immense amount of ground, seamlessly, and without any alienating jump cuts or premature endings, something that does not hold true for all of Bishop's creations. Its increased notation and clear interest in engaging the rich history and contemporary social and political climates in Syria make I Remember one of the most valuable and listenable items from this great new label.
- Andrew Culler
"Princess Nicotine: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma) Vol.1"
Bizarre radio collages might be the most spectacular examples of Alan Bishop's peculiar style of ethnomusicology, but the few more-traditional "song" collections available from the Sun City Girl's Sublime Frequencies label provide equally fascinating glimpses into cultures that, while previously documented, have surely never received the kind of treatment Bishop thankfully feels compelled to provide. The same guerilla tactics that spawned the string of Radio releases are responsible for Princess Nicotine and its predecessor, Folk and Pop Sounds of Sumatra Vol.1, both discs gathered from tapes Bishop collected over two decades of traveling through Indonesia and Southeast Asia. In compiling his souvenirs for release, the label owner flaunts the idiosyncratic and (to a degree) more intimate character of his collections, which, at the very least, offer a refreshing break from over-ambitious, survey-styled comps. Bishop's a-scholastic method also serves as introduction to music previously avoided by dominant, purist-oriented "world music" markets. "Folk and Pop" become blanket terms to describe an explosion of hybrid styles, mesmerizing mash-ups of traditional Burmese song forms with a range of disparate Western influences often more at odds with each other than with their Eastern counterparts. Bishop seems intent on granting these largely undocumented currents, "polluted" by most ethnomusicologists' standards, the relevance they deserve, and on grounds of this first volume alone, he has succeeded. Princess was actually released in a shortened and very limited version back in 1994, and it's no wonder the curator has decided to bring it back. Each of the twelve tracks is an entirely distinct piece of what could become my favorite discovery of the year. The Burmese integrate elements of Western pop, psych, jazz, even fragments of generic theatre and film music in such unique and self-serving ways that any referential material becomes blank fodder for compositions singular in both their emotional immediacy and hallucinogenic grandeur. When it's at all energetic, the music is utterly wild, with discordant scales colliding on frantic solo flights and cymbal bursts punctuating each intricate turn and jump of the vocalists, often engaged in the intensely structured call-and-response to which much of the music hinges with miraculous precision. The calmer tracks are no less astounding; propelled by reeds, violin, chirping flutes, and the incomparable, entirely characteristic Burmese approach to the piano, they are all strangely psychedelic, breezy but charged with a jazzist edge and enough abrupt shifts and tangential melodic parts to fit with Western prog definitions. One song sounds like a warped version of antique Disney film music; another takes what could be the saccharine, string-laden climax to an off-Broadway ham hit and, through the addition of only a few thin piano lines and other percussive scatter, creates a string of delicate, truly moving passages. Bishop does not lie when he talks about the "very distinct" nature of this music, something that is unfortunately hard to communicate without relying on Western points of reference. I will say that previous exposure to several of the scant Burmese collections available domestically (even to the Sun City Girls' more adventurous ethnic borrowing) has in no way prepared me for the treasures of Princess, and, given Sublime Frequencies' rapid release schedule, a second volume should not be far behind.
- Andrew Culler
Mark Lanegan, "Here Comes That Weird Chill"
"Help wanted: former lead singer of grunge and hard rock outfits needs new direction for forthcoming solo record. Friends and former band members are welcome to apply within." Mark Lanegan might not have advertised quite like this for his debut on Beggars, but that's what he ended up with for this EP intended as a primer for the record later this year. Queens Nick Oliveri and Josh Homme play a number of instruments on the majority of the songs and even share songwriting duties, and Greg Dulli Lanegan's current partner-in-crime from the Gutter Twins project adds flavor here and there. With a roster like that, the music is bound to be a departure from previous solo records; the question is whether it is a welcome one. I'm holding out hope, but this group of songs doesn't inspire much confidence. This is chances taken, trying out a few strange licks and larks, and floating them out for good measure. There are still strong songs, and if those are an indication of the upcoming full-length, I have no reason to worry. It's the misses that bring out a little anxiety. Sure, the cackle and playfulness that open the EP is pure sex, bump and grind and choir coos, with scorching leads courtesy of Homme. The next track, though, flows into the inane, with Chris Goss singing "He's got the whole world..." and Lanegan riffing spoken word over the top. Eventually there's a multitude of voices, and then it fades to nothing, or nothing of value anyway. Everywhere that classic swallowed-glass Lanegan voice turns it out and moves it along, always perfect. It's the music that fails him from time to time. The cover, obligatory for most EPs these days it seems, is Captain Beefheart's "Clear Spot," and it's not worth the time or Alain Johannes' involvement, as it isn't all that impressive. And the piano ballad "Lexington Slow Down" is also a strain to listen to for most of it's three minutes. The rest, though is pretty strong and flows nicely. If Lanegan left most of the experimentation to the wayside on his album, more the better. If not, it's high time to morph again. - Rob Devlin
Accelera Deck, "Sunstrigns EP"
Chris Jeely's Accelera Deck project has seen a lot of changes. His early incarnation as an obvious Autechre re-tread gave way to a more interesting and more unique version that worked cut up beats and layers of guitar together in ways we might have always hoped Kevin Shields would get around to trying. Having seen Accelera Deck live a few months back, I knew that a new release was likely to be a lot of processed live instrument sound with little structure or apparent motivation, but even that foreknowledge couldn't have prepared me for the wankfest that opens up his newest disc, Sunstrings. In fact, the track "Dross" nearly perfectly sums up for me all of the things that are putrid and reprehensible about the intersection of technology and music in the hands of people who assume we should give a damn. Whether the source of "Dross" is Jeely's guitar or his hard drive, or some contact mics on African Killer Bees having their wings torn off or the subsonic rubmlings of seismic events around the equatorno amount of explanation or theoretical discourse can save it from being 15 of the worst minutes of recorded music I have ever had the misfortune of experiencing. It's not that Jeely doesn't come up with some cool twerps and buzzes and noises; he mangaes to create a whole catalog of them in the service of "Dross." There's sample fodder to spare here for kids wanting that glitch-core sound but who aren't equipped to arrive at it the old fashioned way. The problem is, there is a complete lack of any purpose, feeling, direction, or consequence to the track that meanders along with the mouse and keystrokes that are obviously creating it. Hell, if this was being composed by a robot Jeely built in his Alabama flat making music based on an algorhithm that decrypts Fantastic Four comic books and turns the plotlines into audio... I DON'T CARE because at the end of it, it still sounds like a total waste of time! "Dross" must be Jeely's middle finger aimed at his listeners, because when he actually tries to make a good piece of music as he does with "Sunstrings," he is more than capable. The beautifully rich tones and distorted crackle of processed guitar in "Sunstrings" make "Dross" seem that much more abhorent. Get to the point man! There's some subtle, wonderful work in the second track of this curious EP, but it's unfortunately sandwiched between digital masturbation that has no business being recorded or released by anyone. The third track is but a click and whimper, then its on to the fourth track, but since only three titles are listed, I can only assume this is a mastering mistake. And who could blame the guy for wondering where the music starts or stops with the laborious "777." It's nothing short of a glitch collection all trotted out with huge gaps that make it seem like a mistake. If this were a playful game of musical connect the dots, I'd understand, but it sounds more like someone fucking off in Audiomulch and again, no theory (though thankfully, none is presented) could render this enjoyable or enlightening in the least. This should have been a one-track "Sunstrings" single; hopefully there's more like that available in the future. - Matthew Jeanes
Tulsa Drone, "No Wake"
Wading out of the woods and into the snow with a sound all their own, Tulsa Drone cause a range of emotions to well up on their powerful debut. Guitar/bass/drums/hammered dulcimer is not a combination one hears everyday, and as soon as the slight strangeness of it all faded I settled in for whatever came next. Lo and behold, they have something here, as this is the most unique and powerful music I have heard in months. It puts me in a place of complete wonder, like a little boy stepping into a new experience like flying on an airplane for the first time. Tulsa Drone have been using trains in their promotional posters recently, and to me that's extremely appropriate, as their music is a drifter's: hopping train car to train car looking for work in the next town, trying desperately to improve a station of life that was down and out to begin with. The Drone in their name is a bit of a misnomer to me, as there is no real drone in this music, no constant that echoes in and out on itself that continues for minutes. That's not a complaint, though, as they've certainly manufactured some fine moments on their first recording. The melodic beginnings of "Chiaroscuro" are stirring, with production heavy on the bass side, and a genuine feel for the dramatic. As the guitars flare, the bass and dulcimer rise to meet them, then all tumble like lovers together back to the base. "Vendetta" steps up the dulcimer to main instrument status, letting everything build around it, with Spanish guitar and arpreggios painting the picture of the score that needs settling. Occasionally there are horns or other sounds added for a little spice or variation, but for the most part the music is the same core. I found it fascinating that they found so many different approaches with the same instruments, and so many themes to operate under. Some hear "drone" and think "boring." If nothing else Tulsa Drone prove that wrong, but at their best the create a new horizon to look towards. - Rob Devlin
The Ramm:Ell:Zee, "This Is What You Made Me"
As it turns out, Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee isn't the guy's first full-length: Tri-Eight squeezed out two editions and an instrumental version of this one late last year, though it looks like the two albums were recorded more or less concurrently. Gomma, however, appears to have gotten the better pile of tapes out of the deal, as the variety of producers on Bi-Conicals provides a range of sounds that is sorely lacking from DJ Kensei's beatwork here. Instead, the Japanese hip-hop and house maestro puts together a framework of synth noises that you probably heard too much of during Wax Trax!'s heyday, and while there's nothing much wrong with the Meat Beat bleeping of "Soldiers" or the KMFDM-style riffage on "I Be Ramm:Ell:Zee:Zee", their familiarity draws attention to how thin and repetitive some of the mixes are; a similar problem comes up when the vocals are so drenched in effects that they're practically unintelligible. Meanwhile, Ramm's usual style of delivery, a berserk matching up of broken and rejigged cliches with surreal street narrative, succumbs to what I hope is just lousy improvising on "In the Back of the Caddy Shack", saddling an almost funky backing track with a pathetic, and largely one-sided, conversation with a twenty-dollar whore. In still other cases, relatively solid tracks are derailed by idiotic choruses or painful samples. With bad production decisions all around, only a couple of cuts manage to avoid feeling twice as long as they need to be: the title track's energetic (and only slightly processed) vocals don't hew too closely to the simple and heavy main rhythm, but they fit well with the anthemic chorus, and "New Meaning" opens the disc with some fun gurgling sounds and some of the most melodic vocoder work I've heard in a while. Even so, right on down to the guest guitarists, everybody on this album has done better elsewhere. - Taylor McLaren
Eyedea & Abilities, "E&A"
"Hey, yo, Abilities, man. Yo, I got a little something I gotta get off my chest right here. A'ight, dig this, man: I'm sick of all these punk motherfuckers in this rap game, youknow'msayin? I'm sayin' these fools steppin' up to us, knowin' they shit is straight GAHbage... you know what I'm talkin' about: E&A don't play that shit, man." And there you have it: the first twenty seconds of "Act Right", less a couple of DJ Abilities' scratched responses. How many cliches can you count? Well, a good half of this album isn't much better. In the interest of saying something nice, however, Eyedea is a darned good freestyler, and his partner is lightning-quick on the crossfader. On stage, they're clever and nimble and their technique is impressive, and if they still battle these days, they're probably worth seeing in that context. Sadly, that's not what you get on E&A; instead, you mainly get to listen to juvenile you-suck rhymes and fag jokes from the comfort of your living room, where there presumably isn't an OOOOH-ing crowd around to convince you that cracks about trading head for "creative juices" are witty. Oh, and then there are some porno samples, and some tedious choruses, and Abilities scratches up some "FUNKY!"s and "WE GON' KEEP IT RAW!"s at a zillion miles a second to keep the kids excited. If you've ever messed around with turntables, you'll admire his chops, but since his partner on the mic only occasionally shuts up about how great they are (to say how much it sucks to get a job, for example, before bragging that he's never had one), you'll also frequently wish that E&A was an instrumental effort. Which is too bad, because at his best, Eyedea is like the Yngwie Malmsteen of MCs, and his vocals can mesh brilliantly with Abilities' zany beats and scratching: "One Twenty" is terrific head-nodding music for about half of its running length, and it's just one of several kamikaze rhymes on the disc. So much of it is so mud-ditch dumb, though, that it's hard to sit around and wait for the good tracks. They try to go out on a thoughtful, angsty note with the Reznor-rap of "Glass" (TIP: Try not to be too surprised by the "shattering" metaphor.), but it's really too late by that point. Go looking for their recently-released Road Mix (23 minutes of standout moments from their shows, an edited version of "One Twenty" that doesn't overstay its welcome, and a frank discussion of the Smurfs that's funnier than anything on E&A) instead of wasting your time on this one. - Taylor McLaren
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